My name is Burton Weltman. I am a history maven. I also like to think and write about literature, education, philosophy and politics, but I generally end up looking at all of those things from a historical perspective. Everything is history, including the sentence I just typed and you just read. The present becomes the past as soon as we think of it, and we inevitably go forward while looking back. So, it is particularly important, I think, that we look at the past in ways that can help us go forward in the present.
I am retired now from gainful employment, but I taught history for over twenty-five years, including some fifteen years teaching history education. I specialized in intellectual history, particularly American intellectual history. I have been most interested in why people think the way they do, and how their ideas translate into actions.
I worked in and with a wide range of schools. These included inner city and suburban schools; elementary, middle, and high schools; and, undergraduate and graduate college programs. I taught history and education at a wide range of colleges, including Essex Community College, Rutgers University, Teachers College/Columbia University, and William Paterson University, from which I retired several years ago as a social studies education professor.
I also worked as a lawyer for some twenty years, serving as a Deputy Attorney General for the State of New Jersey and in a variety of policy-making and administrative positions for the City of New York and the State of New Jersey.
I approach history as people making choices. I am interested in studying how and why people think the way they do, and make the choices that they do. Whether we are studying the colonists making the American Revolution, Herman Melville writing the novel Moby Dick, or a Little League baseball manager calling for a squeeze play, we need to look at the alternatives that these people had, the reasons they chose a particular alternative over the others, the consequences of that decision, and what might have been the result if they had made a different choice. This is essentially what we do when we evaluate the decisions in our own lives.
My approach to law has been essentially the same as my approach to history. A legal case is basically a debate about the history of something, whether it be a crime that was ostensibly committed, a contract that was arguably breached, or an injury that was sustained. A case will generally turn on the choices made by the people involved in the case, why they made those choices, and whether their choices were reasonable.
So, everything, in my view, is history and, especially, the history of people making choices.
As a child, I hated school, was terminally bored by my classes and frequently played hooky. I was drawn toward teaching by a desire to help save future children from the misery that I experienced in school. I was attracted to history by an unconventional high school teacher who made history interesting and relevant to students by relating the choices and actions of people in the past to present-day problems. This is a key aspect of approaching history as people making choices.
I grew up in Chicago and I have recently moved back to the city after living for many years in New York and New Jersey. I have until recently been a life-long Cubs fan. This experience helps explain my interest in lost causes and in reconsidering the viewpoints of the losers in history, a key element in the method of approaching history as people making choices. Despite the success of the Cubs in recent years, the experience of a lifetime of losing games, but keeping hope, are indelibly imprinted on my psyche.
I published a book a few years ago entitled “Was the American Revolution a Mistake? Reaching Students and Reinforcing Patriotism through Teaching History as Choice” that discusses the methods that I used during my career in teaching history and helping history teachers, and presents an outline of American history as the result of people making choices.
The first part of the book describes the pedagogical method of approaching history as choice. The second part demonstrates the method in discussing a series of key events in American history. The book is available in paper and as an e-book through the publisher AuthorHouse and through on-line retailers such as Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and others.